First of a Series
Everyone dreams of being a published author. However, the definition of published has become broader. It’s within your grasp. Being published is a key goal in a writer’s life, a goal you can take control of — if you follow all of the steps in this series. Being published is a process that involves other artists, readers, professionals, and writers.Your greatest asset to complete that process is to take control of your desire. You’ve must harness desire to deliver the goods for your dream. In this series, I’ll break down each step, so you know how it works. Self-publishing your book follows a pattern classic to publishing.
- You create a story, and improve it through revising.
- You create one brief, one longer, and one comprehensive summary of the book. It’s your pitch, query, and calling card.
- You workshop with other writers to gather responses to your story, using those responses to create your final draft.
- You create your platform, before the book is complete, to build an audience
- You hire an editor to assess your book, and to guide your revisions to the story.
- You revise one last time, before submitting your book to copy-editing and proofreading tasks.
- You design your printed book, both the inside pages as well as the covers.
- You design and build files for ebooks: Amazon, as well as other outlets such as indie bookstore ebook shelves.
- You schedule and specify for production and organize delivery of printed copies, as well as your ebooks.
- You register your book with an ISBN number and a UPC code.
- You distribute the books in stores of several kinds: book chains, independent stores, and online stores.
- You tell the world about your book, encouraging reviews of all varieties. This final and essential step launches you as storyteller into the world, using your platform to introduce your written story, as well as attract an audience.
Steps 1-4 are the same for publishing as for self-publishing. On Step 5, things start to change. The editor in that step is one which you hire — in the same way that a publisher has hired its editor to help an author revise a book.
Like a good Tarentino movie, this series going to look at these out of order, starting with Step 5. We’ll double back to do Steps 1-4. That’s because your first four steps will be the same if you’re going to SelfPub, or Traditional Publish (TradPub). Then we’ll go on to Step 6.
You hire for steps 5-11, but you can do of those some parts yourself, depending on your skills. Step 12 is the same for either kind of publishing. Publicizing is the writer’s work to do for almost the entire life of the book. A publisher helps arrange initial interest, and might be able to schedule reviews. But tools like Amazon, GoodReads, even LibraryThing — these are yours to manage.
HOWEVER, THERE ARE MANY ADDITIONAL STEPS to getting a company to publish your book. After the story creation, revision, and crafting, then there are those steps requiring one person after another to allow your book to pass onward through their gate. Everybody, it seems, is being induced to read. Agency’s slush-pile reader, the agent’s assistant, the agent. Then the publishing house reader, acquisition assistant, acquisition editor. A sales director. In the case of a small press, perhaps a publishing house’s founder or owner. In some cases, a half-dozen industry pros must read a part of your book — only to decide if it’s a good investment. Sometimes all they read are those summaries from Step 2.
And those are only the people who will audition your book — not those who will direct it to becoming the book they want to publish. They must do this auditioning, because they’re investing their resources in your art. The line is long for this type of relationship. The rich, the beautiful, and the well-known, they always have a lot of suitors. Yours might be a beautiful book, but it stands in line amid much competition. Good books don’t always make to the front of the line.
One author who’s been in the Workshop earned a 12-month contract with a top-tier agent. That agent got her book read by 12 houses. The book deal eventually went someplace else, without an agent. The time you need to go from being picked for a date, to making your debut, is more than 18 months. It’s closer to two years for any deal with a large publishing company. How do you write one thing that appeals to all the people who are reading it? You can’t. I’ve always told the writers in the Workshop to protect themselves from doubt with this phrase:
Well, it’s not for everybody, is it?
This is what actors tell themselves when they’re not called back on an audition. Or after their reviews are uneven, or unkind. It’s not just your art. It’s also the kind of audience that sees your art. Because nothing is for everybody, really. The Game of Thrones fan will probably want little to do with Sex in the City. Even Harry Potter readers find the fantasy of Twilight hard to enjoy. Believing that a certain kind of book will be loved by everybody is a fantasy. You’re looking for the experience of writing a good book and getting your story into the world. Some of the Workshop’s writers have published their own books. With the 12 Steps, you can publish yours too.
Writing the summary in Step 2 is crucial to getting the most avid readers interested in your story. There are classic elements of telling a story, however, that must be in every book if it’s to gain an audience. That’s what leads to Step 1, Creating the Story. More than anything, while you’re creating you want to discover and use your authentic voice. In the language of the golf and lifestyle classic The Legend of Bagger Vance, Bagger called this your authentic swing.
Finding an authentic voice comes through practice. I don’t mean the “I’m gonna throw this out when I’m done” sort of practice, like the lumps of clay on the way to statues, or phrases of a song you learn and sing out loud in rehearsal. Or the free throws you take in the gym to improve your shooting. Or the lines you repeat before you give a graduation speech. It’s not even the journal entries you write. You practice to find your authentic writing voice by writing. At the end of 25 minutes or an hour you come away with more than just an experience like those notes sung, lines spoken, keys struck at a piano. You come away with words, some phrases, images and sentences that you can improve upon and grow like seeds.
At an early age in my life as an artist, a teacher told me the rich bonus of art in creating a writing practice. “It’s like acting,” he said, “but you get to rehearse as much as you want.” Every line that you mine could contain a precious metal. The most precious metal is targeting your voice. You practice to make your aim true.
This is not practice for practice’s sake. This is practice at creating, where your creations can come home with you.